The Unseen Spook

By Ghaith Shamaileh

A picture of Jackson Square taken from the Internet during COVID

There I was in the middle of Jackson square, a sight I have been familiar with but this time it was different, not many psychic readers perched behind their tables, and I could see few if any crystals shine on what otherwise would be an eventful Saturday in the quarter. Just like the rest of the world this city has been hit with a monster. A monster unheard of even in the Voodoo culture of New Orleans.

Approaching the very few psychics camping on the square, I could see the joy through their eyes; eyes that haven’t read a palm in almost a year. Little they did know; I was here to ask questions, not to get a reading. Royce Allison, that was the first reader I encountered. Originally from Oklahoma City, Royce and his wife, moved to New Orleans in 1992 in the pursuit of the so-called supernatural culture of New Orleans. “Coming from a family of palmistry experts and tarot readers, I knew the French Quarter is the place to be for someone like me,” he said. Royce had witnessed devastation before, when hurricane Katrina hit, he was forced to move back to Oklahoma City. Yet, the devastation brought by this monster virus is unmatched. Royce’s frustration was apparent in the little smiles he gave out every time he recalled the days before COVID. From 40 to 50 readings per day during a regular Mardi Gras season to no season at all. “3 readings at most, that is on an exceptional Saturday.” He nodded his head and told me. I did not need to hear much to tell that there was no work for people like Royce to live off.

Rev. Royce Allison. On Jackson Square

About 10 feet away from Royce sat a lady on another table. A Romanian Lady named Vadoma. Vadoma’s children and grandchildren lived off this craft she mastered across the globe. She needed nothing more than a table and a pair of crystals to support a whole family. Coming from the Gypset school of palmistry, Vadoma read her first palm over 50 years ago back in Romania. Since 1989, Vadoma has been working on Jackson Square. Though it supposedly would have been the high season and Vadoma usually goes back home for vacation during the low season, Vadoma was considering going back to Romania during this time. “At least I can be with my family now” she told me when I asked her why she wanted to leave. Many like Vadoma had already left she explained to me, and she reassured me that they would return if life goes back to normal.

What took me by surprise is that people like Royce and Vadoma had no other sources of income, now that the income is cut those people are left hopeless. “Table by table, these people left.” Royce told me. Some had COVID, some died of COVID and others are running away from the economic repercussions of COVID. Ironically not a single psychic, tarot reader or fortune teller saw this pandemic coming nor they seem to see when it will come to an end. Their stars did not seem to align nor did our existing science seemed to understand how this virus is acting.

Psychics have been trying to adapt and are now doing some readings virtually, but is it a reading if the person is not shuffling and picking his own cards? Would it mean anything if your shirt is not sticky from all the humidity while you sit on a broken camping chair? It could be, but not for me.

I had 40 dollars in my pocket just in case I felt like getting a reading after my interviews. My intuition told me to split it between the two: Vadoma and then Royce.

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